Sri Lanka Table of Contents
Sri Lanka's oldest and most enduring military relationship has been with Britain. As a British colony, the island was garrisoned with British troops and, following independence, its own indigenous armed forces were organized, trained, armed, and led by British military personnel. Under a mutual defense arrangement dating from 1947, the two nations have agreed to give each other "such military assistance for the security of their territories for defense against external aggression and for the protection of essential communications as it may be in their mutual interests to provide." The vague wording of this treaty has allowed it to survive a number of political swings in Sri Lanka's domestic arena, and it remained in force in 1988. Even after the government of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike withdrew island base rights from British forces in 1957, the British continued to be a major supplier of military hardware. Although the British government has denied any direct involvement, for a time former British Special Air Service personnel under the auspices of the private firm of Keeny Meeny Services were instrumental in training Sri Lankan troops in counterterrorist and counterinsurgency techniques.
After the anti-Tamil riots of 1983 and as the ethnic insurgency increased in the north, the government turned to a variety of foreign nations to assist in its counterinsurgency campaign. In May 1984, at considerable cost to its standing among Third World nations, the government arranged for the establishment of an Israeli special interest section in Colombo. Operating out of the United States embassy, agents from Shin Bet, the Israeli counterespionage and internal security organization, trained members of the Sri Lankan Special Task Force and other groups in intelligence gathering and internal security techniques.
Other nations that have reportedly provided training include Australia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, and the United States. Unconfirmed press reports suggest that a number of foreign advisers, including Englishmen, Pakistanis, and South Africans, have actually taken part in combat operations against the Tamil insurgents. In April 1986, the Indian press announced that a Pakistani Air Force officer had been killed in an airplane crash shortly after participating in an air assault in Northern Province.
Military relations between Sri Lanka and India underwent a major change in mid-1987. For almost ten years, the Tamil insurgency in Northern and Eastern provinces had been a major source of friction between the two nations because India provided shelter, training, and weapons to the insurgent groups. The Sri Lankan insurgents found abundant sympathy and support for their cause within the Tamil-dominated Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and Madras served as the headquarters from which they regularly issued condemnations of the government. Beginning in May 1987, the Indian government changed its official role from that of intermediary to active participant as it sought to abate the turmoil in the island and bring together the Tamil separatists and the Sri Lankan government. Although the resulting Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, which was signed in July 1987, offered an equitable formula for restoring peace to the troubled nation, a subsequent exchange of executive letters accorded to India a substantial voice in Sri Lankan military affairs. In particular, Sri Lanka acceded to three major concessions. First, it agreed to consult New Delhi on the employment of all foreign military and intelligence personnel in Sri Lanka "with a view to insuring that such presences will not prejudice Indo-Sri Lankan relations." Second, it guaranteed that no Sri Lankan ports would be made available "for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India's interests." Third, Sri Lanka agreed to review its contracts with foreign broadcasting organizations to insure that none of their facilities in Sri Lanka would be used for military or intelligence purposes. This latter concession was specifically aimed at Voice of America broadcasting operations on the island. In return, New Delhi agreed to deport all Sri Lankan terrorists and insurgents operating on Indian soil and to provide military training and supplies to the Sri Lankan armed forces. Press reports in early 1988 suggested that Sri Lanka was prepared to expand and formalize its military relationship with India through a treaty of friendship and cooperation similar to that linking India with the Soviet Union.
Data as of October 1988
Sri Lanka Table of Contents